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Montgomery County Executive says another shutdown may be needed to fight virus

Bryan P. Sears//November 18, 2020

Montgomery County Executive says another shutdown may be needed to fight virus

By Bryan P. Sears

//November 18, 2020

Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich. (The Daily Record / Bryan P. Sears)
Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich said Maryland may need another shutdown as coronavirus cases continue to surge across the state. (The Daily Record / Bryan P. Sears)

Maryland may be in need of another shutdown as coronavirus cases surge in the state, according to the leader of one Maryland county.

Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich’s comments come one day after Gov. Larry Hogan announced he will re-impose some restrictions including ordering bars and restaurants to end indoor service at 10 p.m. and reducing capacity limits on retailers, entertainment venues, churches and other establishments.

Elrich said Hogan’s restrictions didn’t go far enough but acknowledged that balancing public health with harsh economic realities including job loss and potential permanent closure of businesses is difficult. But the county executive said the state is now facing “an avalanche” of coronavirus cases statewide.

Maryland has not been under a stay-at-home order since mid-May and, up until this month, Hogan had phased in a lifting of many but not all restrictions imposed on businesses in the spring.

“Everyone has difficult decisions to make but I think the numbers are at the point again that we’ve got to err on the side of human health and we’re going to have to shut things down more eventually. I don’t think that what he did is going to cause this thing to bend over the next two weeks,” Elrich said.

Elrich said the federal government needs to “step up” and provide financial aid to businesses and employees so that a lockdown won’t kill businesses or eliminate jobs.

The leader of the state’s most populous jurisdiction said he will likely announce new restrictions, possibly before Thanksgiving including additional limits on indoor and outdoor gatherings and requiring the use of face coverings at all times when outside, similar to one announced earlier this month in Prince George’s County.

“It’s no longer these counties in the center part of Maryland along 95 that are the problem,” said Elrich, noting that in the spring rural counties were largely less affected than the Baltimore and suburban DC regions. “Now everybody’s got it so I think this is the moment for a uniform statewide policy because you don’t have good places and bad places anymore. You’ve got all bad places.”

The state’s infections per 100,000 people has exploded in recent weeks with a statewide average of nearly 31. All 24 jurisdictions are above 10, a rate at which the virus is considered to be spreading rapidly.

Allegany County leads the state with more than 110 cases per capita followed by Garrett County, which is over 60, and Washington County above 40. Three jurisdictions are above 30. Montgomery County and 11 others are above 20 and six more are between 13 and 19.

Hospitalizations, positivity rates and other measurements are also climbing.

“If you do an apples to apples comparison to where we were in the spring, we are past the numbers of where we were when we shut things down the first time,” said Montgomery County Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles “We have to take a very hard look at some of those practices that were successful during the first wave to have the same effects during the second time around.”

Hogan has been reluctant to impose additional restrictions, instead calling on local leaders to take action based on the situation within an individual jurisdiction. In announcing additional restrictions on Tuesday, Hogan said he had moved away from an earlier approach in which he used phases to determine what would be opened or closed within the state.

“What we thought was the best advice in March or April or June or July or August or September is different from the advice we’re getting today based on all of those changing things,” said Hogan. “We’re just, we don’t want to use an old metric to deal with today’s battle.”

With just a week left before Thanksgiving, Hogan, Elrich and others have expressed concern about holding the traditional large holiday gatherings. Limited contract tracing data shows some correlation between private indoor gatherings and surges in cases.

Hogan announced last week that he would forgo his traditional dinner with his family for a quieter meal with his wife. Elrich called on others to do the same.

“As hard as it is, the best thing that we can do for the people we love and care about is to see them on a Zoom call on Thanksgiving not try to get together with them,” said Elrich.

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